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After parcel tax defeat, Los Angeles city and school leaders vow to keep fighting for funding for kids

Taylor Swaak | June 5, 2019

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LAUSD special education teacher Gloria Ramirez at Wednesday’s news conference after Measure EE’s defeat, with Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, Superintendent Austin Beutner, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl.

One day after voters overwhelmingly rejected a $500 million-a-year parcel tax, Los Angeles city and school leaders sent a message to voters: We’ve heard your concerns. And we’re going to keep fighting to fund our schools.

“This is just the beginning of our fight,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said as he launched into Wednesday’s news conference. “When I took on this challenge just about a year ago, I knew it would not be easy. Decades of underfunding, strained relationships with those who work in schools, not enough progress in helping all students succeed and a lack of trust by many in the community. This can’t be fixed overnight.”

About 54 percent of Los Angeles voters on Tuesday voted “no” on Measure EE, which would have taxed residents within L.A. Unified boundaries 16 cents per square foot of developed property to fund L.A. schools and secure the lower class sizes and additional nurses, counselors and librarians promised in January’s $840 million teacher contract. But the district couldn’t sway opponents who doubted the district’s accountability with new money and demanded reform first.

Tuesday’s results marked “the lowest percentage of voters in support of a school district parcel tax within the last five years,” Vote No on EE spokesman Matt Klink tweeted Wednesday, citing the California Taxpayers Association. The measure needed 66.7 percent approval.

• Read more: Los Angeles voters roundly defeat parcel tax, leaving LAUSD on shaky financial footing

• Los votantes de Los Ángeles rechazan rotundamente el impuesto a las parcelas, dejando al LAUSD en una situación financiera complicada

Beutner said those who fought for the tax are resolved, however, to “get back up and keep moving forward,” with the next step being “to take the fight to Sacramento” and lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature for more funding.

With more than 40 people behind him at the podium, Beutner thanked a slew of colleagues and Measure EE advocates and cheerleaders, including:

  • Union leaders from United Teachers Los Angeles, Service Employees International, the Teamsters, Building Trades, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, School Police and the California School Employees Association.
  • Community organizations including Community Coalition, InnerCity Struggle, SCOPE, Korean Resource Center, Power California, CHIRLA, Great Public Schools Now, Speak Up and Parent Revolution.
  • The charter school community “whose schools serve kids and communities with great needs.”
  • The business and philanthropic community. “You helped make clear the children in our schools are your employees of the future and the future of Los Angeles rests in their hands.”

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl — whom Beutner introduced as his “partner in this work,” shaking hands with him at the podium — also acknowledged that the Measure EE campaign faced various roadblocks.

“We knew when we began this that there were aspects that made this an uphill climb,” Caputo-Pearl said. “A tight timeline that we needed to do to try to get resources to our students as quickly as possible. Many of the most affected people — students and undocumented parents — not being able to vote.

“But we did it anyway,” he continued. “And I would do it anyway again.” He echoed Beutner in saying, “We’re ready to keep the fight going. The battle for the soul of L.A. … is just beginning.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who played a key role in cementing January’s teacher contract, even went so far as to call the day “historic … a moment in which you see the reflection of the face of our city.”

“On a day which I know we’re supposed to be down, I can’t help but still be extremely hopeful,” Garcetti said. Those who supported Measure EE “collectively believe that education is something we collectively have to own. … [This is] a new chapter of finding what we agree on first instead of what we disagree on first.”

He added: “Absolutely, I’ll leave it up to the analysts, to the political professionals to analyze what happened last night. But I’ll tell you this: This coalition is something I am proud to have been a part of long before January, to have strengthened this year through this measure, and to keep marching forward with together.”

The parcel tax’s downfall sparked a question during the follow-up Q&A as to whether L.A. Unified would be able to submit a budget to the county by the July 1 deadline that fulfills the county’s requirements. County overseers have threatened a takeover if L.A. Unified can’t prove its solvency over the next three years.

“By law, we have to make sure that we can get through the next three years with the resources that we think we’ll have,” Beutner said. “And we’ll be able to do that.”

Wednesday was a day of reflection across L.A. Unified and in the broader education community. Here are some of the highlights of reactions and takeaways from Tuesday’s election:

“We heard you, Los Angeles. You want more conversation. You want more evidence that change and skin is in the game. … Friends, we must be learners.” — Board President Mónica García at Wednesday’s news conference

— “Today is a hard day, but educators face and overcome obstacles every day. … We will pick up the pieces and fight even harder, because our students deserve it.” — Special education teacher Gloria Martinez at Wednesday’s news conference

“I intend to show up [for the kids]. We intend to be back again, and to try to be more persuasive.” —  School board member George McKenna at Wednesday’s news conference

— “Despite this campaign falling short, I sincerely hope that the historic coalition that came together to support this effort — a partnership between labor and charter schools, the district and the city, parents and community advocates — doesn’t collapse in the face of a setback, but rather doubles down on our efforts to support our schools. Let’s ensure that yesterday is not the end, but just the beginning of a united front — one that must turn our eyes to Sacramento and Washington to demand that they invest in our district’s students. It is also incumbent on this coalition to learn the lessons from yesterday’s defeat — most notably that voters believe L.A. Unified needs to do more to reform and improve outcomes for kids in addition to seeking increased investment.” — Statement by school board Vice President Nick Melvoin

The Los Angeles County Office of Education is disappointed that Measure EE did not pass. … While progress has been made and actions have been taken to improve the district’s fiscal condition, the County Office of Education remains concerned with the continued use of one-time funding to cover ongoing expenditures. Put simply, LAUSD needs to stop spending more than it receives from the state and federal government, which it does every year. The County Office team is committed to continuing to work with LAUSD as they develop the district budget for 2019-20.” — L.A. County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo in an email to LA School Report  

— “We are deeply disappointed that Los Angeles voters did not support efforts to increase education funding for L.A. kids. Our parents worked very hard to pass this, and we will not give up efforts to lift California from its abysmal position near the bottom of states in education funding. I know that we can do better, and our kids deserve more.” — Speak UP founder and CEO Katie Braude, via Speak UP

“We’ve had some pretty big battles over charter schools in the last six months, and it’s worth noting that the voters were watching. And what they saw was a battle over a technocratic school model — not a battle over educational quality. This was a battle about politics and not kids. … It was simply scapegoating one category of public schools in order to serve another. That may serve some narrow political interest groups, but it certainly doesn’t serve kids.” — Ben Austin, executive director of Kids Coalition

— “What the resounding vote shows is that the business community needs to have an important role in these conversations and not be treated as an afterthought. We are committed to sitting down with the district to help figure out what’s next. … But it’s not just a money question. There are larger, reform-related questions that the district frankly is failing to address that need to be front and center before we request to open up the pocketbook again.” — Matt Klink, spokesman for Vote No on EE campaign

“California’s public education system is in desperate need of more funding, which is why CCSA supported Measure EE. While we are disappointed with today’s results, we will continue to find common ground in our fight for more equitable funding for all public school students in Los Angeles and across the state.” — Statement by Myrna Castrejón, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association

— “We are deeply disappointed with the results of yesterday’s special election. Measure EE provided an opportunity for Los Angeles voters to demonstrate an investment and commitment to our students and teachers. … E4E-Los Angeles will continue to uplift the voices of our members in their schools, district and union to ensure that more funds are generated for our highest-need students.”Statement by Ama Nyamekye, executive director of Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles

— “The main lesson I would say is that education policy cannot be determined based on what we read off Twitter. The national conversation about teachers and teacher pay does not reflect what voters actually do. … All that disconnect played out in the election yesterday.” — Chad Aldeman, senior associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners

— “It leaves Mr. Beutner without a clear mission moving forward. He was seen as someone who was going to contain costs and bring more efficiency to the system. Since the teacher strike is over, and Measure EE [didn’t] pass, it’s not quite clear what particular strength he has.” — John Rogers, professor of education, UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, to EdWeek

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